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The amazing thing about NFL free agency 2023, which effectively begins at noon on Monday, is that the two most intriguing players out there are not free agents: Aaron Rodgers and Lamar Jackson.
And both those star quarterbacks cast an enormous shadow over all of free agency now.
Rodgers has yet to announce his intentions about the coming season and whether he wishes to play or not. That is expected by Wednesday and likely before.
“Stay tuned,” Rodgers told former NFL receiver Brandon Marshall of the I am Athlete Podcast on Sunday. “I think it won’t be long. There’s a time limit for all this.”
Aaron Rogers Is Facing Team Deadlines
The time limit is 4 p.m. on Wednesday if Rodgers is going to agree to be traded. Both the Green Bay Packers and any other team to which Rodgers goes must be under the salary cap by that time. The clubs must know Rodgers’ intention to rework his deal in order to make that happen.
At the NFL Combine I asked Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst if it’s a fair assumption the team had to do contract salary cap work on the Rodgers contract if he returns to Green Bay.
“Yeah, I think that’s fair to say,” he said. “Yup.”
It’s equally fair to say Aaron Rodgers going elsewhere will also require a contract restructure because the Packers want the new team to pay as much of the charge (and cap charge) from the transaction as possible while the new team wants to pay little as possible.
A compromise would need to be struck.
And, again, all of it would have to be done by Wednesday at 4 p.m. because of the huge cap numbers involved.
Understand this: The Green Bay Packers are ready to move on to Jordan Love as their quarterback and, indeed that is their preference, per NFL sources.
Rogers and Packers Options
But while the rest of the NFL is expecting Rodgers to decide to either play for the Packers or Jets, there is one other option the Packers are lately whispering about that doesn’t involve Rodgers playing in Titletown or elsewhere in exchange for a draft pick compensation of any kind .
Aaron Rodgers retiring outright.
Most people don’t believe this will happen because it would mean Rodgers simply walks away from $58.3 million this year. Most people aren’t ready to do that.
But the Packers were encouraged when Rodgers said on the Pat McAfee show recently that money’s lure isn’t what drives him to make this monumental life decision.
“Money is energy and I have made a ton of it,” Rodgers said on the show. “I’m very thankful for this organization and the generational wealth that they’ve offered me. Hopefully they feel like I’ve earned a lot of it. But, yeah, for sure. I could definitely walk away from that.”
In the event Rodgers would walk away from that money and retire, the Packers could keep him on the roster through June 1 for salary cap purposes. Starting after June 1, the club could spread out the remaining proration of his signing bonus over 2023 and 2024, meaning his cap charge for next season would be lower.
All of these salary cap machinations is one reason most players hire agents.
Lamar Jackson Still Looking Around
Except Lamar Jackson, as recently as last week when the Baltimore Ravens placed the non-exclusive franchise tag on him, had not done that.
So what happens next with Jackson?
Jackson is not able to speak to NFL teams starting at noon on Monday. He cannot engage with any club’s presonnel departments, head coach or other member of the coaching staff. He cannot visit any team in person until Wednesday.
It is unknown to what degree Jackson will be doing that.
Everyone in the NFL understands it would require two first-round picks sent to the Baltimore Ravens to sign Jackson to an offer and actually land him. And, according to multiple sources, there’s a belief the Ravens will simply match most offers and retain their player, scoring what seems to be a victory for them.
And a defeat for the team that negotiated the original deal.
Another problem is teams lacking a first-round pick cannot negotiate with Jackson until after the draft in April.
That, however, doesn’t eliminate everyone.
Someone Needs a QB
Among teams that seem logical options should they wish to engage in this chase for a dynamic but injury-prone player include the Tennessee Titans, Las Vegas Raiders, and possibly Houston Texans. The Atlanta Falcons make sense, too, but the entire Earth has reported that team is not interested in Jackson.
The Panthers, Saints and Falcons, all NFC South rivals, joined the Cleveland Browns in pursuit of Deshaun Watson last offseason before he elected to sign with the Browns.
The Saints now have Derek Carr. The Panthers have the first overall pick in the April draft to select their quarterback, and the Falcons?
They have Desmond Ridder and the No. 8 overall selection in the coming draft which might leave them with no elite quarterback or prospect of one.